Show Hide image

The effects of the Mancession, why Labour should move north, and my summer of Corbyn

It’s encouraging to hear Labour is moving its HQ away from Westminster, but it would be even better if it moved north.

Three is apparently the magic number when it comes to predicting another global financial apocalypse. Fears of an impending collapse have been ignited by an IMF stability report that cited a “triad” of risks – instability and recession in emerging economies, growing burdens of debt and discord in the eurozone, and fragility in global markets – that combine to offer a telling insight into when the world economy might tank once more. The Bank of England’s chief policymaker, Andy Haldane, has also argued that the emerging-market crisis of 2015 can best be understood as “Credit Crunch: Part Three” (part two being the eurozone wobble of 2014).


Having spent recent weeks on the road promoting my book Crunch Lit, which examines the impact of the 2008 crash on culture, I think these claims can seem nothing if not a bit predictable. Indeed, given the lack of change since 2007-2008, it’s remarkable that talk of a third-wave financial crisis has taken this long to emerge. We are suffering from a global debt hangover, and no number of credit-bought bacon sandwiches can make it all better. Booms and busts are a cyclical, symptomatic feature of the failure of contemporary capitalism. Many of the toxic practices and cultures that characterised the 2008 crisis not only remain but have been compounded by an over-reliance on anticipated growth in markets (such as China) that has veiled broader economic weaknesses. Although sequels are notoriously ropy, present signals suggest that Credit Crunch III could be every bit as edge-of-the-seat scary as parts one and two.

No Womancession

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 was widely dubbed the “Mancession” as a reflection of the male-dominated composition of the banking sector. Since the crunch, many female financial leaders have united in calling for reform and review. The lethal testosterone of the pre-2007 banking sector even led some to speculate that if women had occupied more top positions in economics and politics, the credit crunch might never have happened. This is why I’m so encouraged by the creation of the Virago/New Statesman Women’s Prize for Politics and Economics, which will be awarded to a new female writer on economics or politics who shows originality and rigorous thinking. Although the irony of a publication called the New Statesman offering this intervention will not be lost on some, the prize nevertheless intends to identify, encourage and promote women writing in male-dominated fields, and will have a judging panel comprising three women and one man. Writings on economics and politics are a reflection of the worlds they capture, worlds in which women remain relatively invisible.

Red Kensington

As a recent returnee to northern climes (I’m originally from Newcastle), I was encouraged to hear that Labour has decided to relocate its HQ outside Westminster. Currently based in Brewer’s Green – a five-minute walk from parliament – the party is being forced to move because of the commercial redevelopment of its rented premises. Yet in a move that would astound even Kirstie Allsopp, it has decided to pick up sticks and move to the Conservative stronghold of Kensington. The average house price in Kensington is £1.4m, and (with an awkward serendipity) the republican Labour leader will now have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as his neighbours.

As the move is only temporary, I’d like to use this article to issue an open invitation for the party to head north. The IPPR think tank claims the north is suffering from “devo-disarray”, and who can blame it? In recent months, 38 different cities and regions have submitted bids for more powers but without any sense of what these might be or how it might happen. Giving parliament and parliamentary parties a physical base and presence beyond the capital would be an important step towards figuring it out.

Party up north

Thanks to the post-crash property bubble, northern cities are littered with unoccupied and competitively priced office space. As a self-confessed fan of trains, Jeremy Corbyn will know that Leeds and Manchester are little more than two hours from the capital. So, is it time for Labour to move north? In an
era of austerity and devolution, such a move would address not only cost issues, but also an ongoing tension between the experience of the 99 per cent of the UK and the 1 per cent of Westminster. Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, has called for the creation of a “Northern Powerhouse” in which “the daughter of a cleaner from Kingstone in my constituency will have the same opportunities as the son of a barrister from Kingston-upon-Thames”. But this new “SuperNorth” rhetoric will become a reality only when one of the two main parties takes action to prove that you don’t have to live and work within the M25 to direct debates about the future of the whole country.

Momentum in time

It’s been nearly six months since Corbyn was thrust into the spotlight as a late game-changer in the Labour leadership election. Chairing his Northern Futures campaign policy launch in Leeds back in June, I witnessed the effect his new approach to politics has on young people: very rarely have I had to admonish students for trying to break into a political rally.

Now Jeremy’s urgent challenge is to maintain momentum, not just in the shape of the newly formed Labour organisation of the same name but also in offering workable alternatives. Immigration, the economy and security will define the teenage years of this century, and now is the time to see original interventions from a leader who, this summer, inspired all those of us in search of something different.

Katy Shaw is principal lecturer in contemporary literature at Leeds Beckett University. Her book “Crunch Lit” is published by Bloomsbury

Show Hide image

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.